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  • Nate Adams

'Girls State' review: The future is female

Courtesy of Apple TV+


Following the success of 2020’s insightful and, at times, terrifying documentary “Boys State,” where filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine chronicled a week long Texas program that saw 1,000 teenage boys run and implement their own mock state government, the same team is back with a view at the other side in “Girls State.” Capturing youthful and energetic ambition, “Girls State” comes at time with more urgency than its predecessor, especially as the documentary was shot mere weeks before the Supreme Court would overturn Roe V. Wade thus taking away a women’s right to body autonomy. 

In “Girls State,” which follows the same structure as “Boys State” wherein the filmmakers choose a crop of individuals to follow on their journey at the Boys State sister program in Missouri, the attendees are debating and discussing very real and pressing issues. It brings forth honest questions about gender equitability, disparity, while also putting the pressure on Girls State organizers who clearly elect a different set of standards than their male counterparts (and with much less money). 

“Girls State” also captures a historic landmark where, for the first time in its 80-year tenure, both sexes coexist on the same campus, thus bringing forth more scrutiny. For the boys, nothing has really changed: they can roam the grounds freely, have delegate meetings, and even snag real politicians to attend their ceremonies. The girls are in a much different camp: they have to adhere to strict dress codes, nor can they travel around the campus without a “buddy” and the program itself is much looser and ill-defined. 

The filmmakers do an amicable job at pooling participants from all across the political apparatus who give the film its spark: There’s Emily, a conservative with plans of running for president in 2040 (she is one of many students who throws her name on the ballot for governor, the highest officer in the program). Standing opposite her is Faith, a small town girl who found herself changing political ideologies as she got older and steered away from pressuring family members; elsewhere, we meet Tochi, one of the few women of color to participate in the program, who has to field questions about her Nigerian heritage from clueless white girls who have probably never spoken to a Black person in their life. 

Similar to “Boys State,” part of the allure of “Girls State” is watching the teenagers grow over what is an insane week-long intensive, where alliances are formed, dreams are crushed, and vulnerability is at an all time high. The rules are somewhat less clear than before, and the flow of the picture gets hindered by the restrictive nature of the program itself. In other words, it lacks intensity. But the girls understand this and, when campaigning for governorship, make points in their campaign speeches about how organizers are more focused on cheesy female empowerment rather than discussing and debating important, life-altering topics. 

Still, the documentary offers much more optimism as opposed to “Boys State,” where the idea of small-minded males dominating the political spectrum was inherently depressing (not to mention how completely backwards it is they would even try debating the merits of abortion when, as one girl rightly points out in the movie, “they do not have a uterus”). It won’t take this documentary to let you know the future is female, but it is somewhat reassuring that, in the not so distant future, grown ups might actually get to be in the room and make the decisions.

Grade: B+   

GIRLS STATE debuts on Apple TV+ Friday, April 5th. 


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